by Chana B. Cox
“The future of this Republic is in the hands of the American Voter.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
The integrity of our voting system is essential to the faith and trust on which this constitutionally limited republic depends. Almost all Americans recognize that the Jim Crow laws, which made it impossible for African Americans to vote in many states, were gross betrayals of the principles on which this nation was founded. Americans passed the Voting Rights Act and ratified the 24th Amendment. We finally corrected that injustice.
We have always known that there were more insidious and subtle forms of voting fraud. With increasingly close elections, however, there is far less willingness to accept the results of flawed processes, and so, accusations of fraud have grown exponentially. When John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon, it was widely believed that the Chicago machine had delivered the necessary “dead” votes to ensure victory. Nonetheless, people accepted the result and moved on. When George W. Bush beat Al Gore, the result was lawsuits – and it has been lawsuits in almost every close election since. “Final” results are consistently being challenged and changed, and recounts often seem to continue until the political party in control of the procedures has produced favorable results.
None of this is new. Yes, our system is open to massive fraud, but it always has been. What’s changed is that there is now an increasingly broad-based and bipartisan belief that elections are being stolen. This belief is, in part, a result of very close elections and public lawsuits.
Faith in the system is eroding. After the Bush-Gore contest, many states moved to electronic voting. Fortunately, Oregon retained paper ballots. Although there are problems with mail-in ballots, with paper ballots the evidence of tampering cannot easily disappear in the bits and bytes of automated systems. As documented in the administration’s Commerce Department report (NISTIR 7770), the electronic systems that are designed, in part, to avoid the perils of tampering with paper ballots are even more open to widespread and virtually undetectable tampering. Talk about unintended consequences.
Add it all up, and the citizens of the United States and Oregon are losing trust in the fundamental legitimacy of our elections. And we are no longer willing to merely move on.
In Oregon, these problems can be greatly minimized while simultaneously reducing the costs of the elections and the inconvenience to voters. Over the next few weeks, U-Choose Educational Forum will present six very simple proposals that, if implemented, should substantially increase the integrity of the election system in this state.
Proposal 1: All ballots should be sent to voters with postage-paid self-addressed return envelopes
Oregon and Federal Law rightly requires that voters be able to vote without paying for the privilege, and so ballots should be provided with self-addressed, postage-paid envelopes. Voters will not have to drive anywhere to mail a letter, and they will not have to leave their homes to purchase stamps. Voters then can mail their ballots from their homes or from many hundreds of post office boxes.
The United States Postal Service automatically would provide a rough estimate of the ballots mailed in when it calculates the postage owed by the state. Moreover, if virtually all ballots were mailed in, the USPS would ensure the provenance of the ballots. Also, tampering with the U.S. Mail is a federal offense. The system currently operates with virtually no monitoring of the many thousands of ballots left in drop boxes.
Voters who have lost, misplaced, or failed to receive ballots in the mail still would be able to acquire and to vote replacement ballots at County Election Offices. And a single polling place with a drop box should be open on Election Day in each State Senate District, in addition to the polling places in the County Election Offices.
If all ballots must be mailed in, except for those voted at a polling place on Election Day or deposited in a drop box in a polling place on Election Day, our voting system will be less open to tampering, kinder to our environment, and more “user friendly.”
Proposal 2: Enforce existing Oregon law and destroy all unused ballots at 8:00 PM on Election Day
If blank, unused ballots are not currently destroyed. It is possible for an unidentified and perhaps “unofficial” person at the counting places to fill them in. Without the destruction of these unused ballots, even the most heroic effort by the volunteer monitors cannot ensure that blank ballots are not being filled in by a person or persons unknown, allowing the ballots to reappear as seemingly genuine votes in recounts. In most districts, virtually all the people involved in the ballot count are strongly politically motivated. In almost all districts, people from one or the other major political party control the voting process. The political party in charge of counting the ballots has the ability to massively change the ballot count.
In the last election, in Multnomah County alone there were approximately 72,000 blank ballots that were not destroyed at8:00 PM on Election Day. The Post Office returned about 40,000 ballots as “undeliverable.” When ballots are returned because they are undeliverable, the envelope should be slit open, the blank ballots counted, and prepared for destruction. The outside envelope with the voter’s name and address should be retained so that those voters can be removed from their voting rolls. In addition, ballots are now being printed and held in reserve by some counties long after Election Day, clearly in violation of the law. Days after the 2010 election, over 32,000 such unused ballots were discovered in the basement of the Multnomah County election offices.
Oregon Law (ORS 254.483) requires the destruction of all blank ballots at8:00 PMon Election Day; but on instructions from the Secretary of State’s office or from county election officials, that law is not currently being enforced in many counties. Retaining those ballots invites massive tampering.
There was no response when Multnomah County’s non-compliance was reported to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s office. When an official complaint was lodged with the Multnomah County Auditor, he did nothing, despite the fact that his predecessor’s report in 2006-7 noted the same sort of abuses as those documented in 2008-10.
Not destroying unused ballots is a violation of existing law and an example of the deep potential for corruption inherent in the current practice.
Proposal 3: Eliminate drop boxes except in polling places on Election Day
So long as ballots may be dropped in boxes rather than mailed, the handling of those ballots must be far more strictly monitored. Currently, many thousands of ballots are dropped in drop boxes. Temporary employees are hired just to pick up those ballots. Although each ballot is in a secrecy envelope, the name of the voter is on the non-secret envelope. Using a publicly available voter list it is possible to match each name to party affiliation. These unidentified temporary employees may delay the ballots for hours before bringing them into the counting facilities. There is no public record of who picks up the ballots from the drop boxes. There is no record of how many ballots are picked up and when. There is no record of how long those ballots are held in limbo and possibly tampered with before being brought in and counted. There is, however, well-documented evidence that at least some of the ballots dropped in drop boxes are not being counted. The state also maintains a database that shows who has or has not voted in the last election. Anyone can check and see if their ballot was recorded as having been cast. We recommend that people do check to see if their ballots made the count.
On Election Day when ballots are transported from precincts to the counting offices, the ballots in drop boxes should be weighed in bulk and thus roughly counted before being transported; and the transportation of ballots on Election Day should be bid out to a bonded delivery company rather than to part-time, unidentified messengers. A responsible delivery company uses time clocks or GPS monitoring for pick-up times and delivery times.
If we eliminate drop boxes except in polling places on Election Day, ballots from polling places still would require a secure pick-up and delivery system, but far fewer ballots would be picked up from far fewer locations. The number of such ballots could be documented by an election official; and the transport of those ballots would be in the hands of bonded transport companies.
The boxes of ballots at the heart of our democracy should be treated with at least as much care as routine UPS deliveries.
Proposal 4: No ballots should be counted before Election Day
Currently, some counties begin to count ballots as early as a week before Election Day. Information on those counts and the party affiliation of the voters may be leaked to political campaigns and to the public. The numbers of voters who wait until Election Day to submit their ballots has grown to almost fifty percent, in part because the public has become aware that their ballots are being removed from the sealed secrecy envelopes early and some voters have begun to suspect that their ballots have been tampered with.
County Commissioners should instruct election officials to retain the ballots in the sealed secrecy envelopes until the morning of Election Day, at which time ballot counting could start as soon as the ballots are available for counting.
Proposal 5: Electronic Security: Critical mission computers should meet industry-wide security standards including standards for computer isolation.
According to McCullough Research, the Multnomah County Election Division Office “although generally sound, has one vulnerability that is sufficient to render the election results suspect.” While the six tally machines are secured, they are connected to each other by a single personal computer that actually reports the results. That machine is neither electronically nor physically isolated from tampering. That critical machine is not secure; and while procedures for comparing the totals from the six tallying machines with the final vote count are in place, those procedures are not being implemented. “The vulnerability of the connections pales when one considers that the unity machine [the PC] has several unsecured USB ports. What that means is that anyone who has 30 seconds of unobserved access to the personal computer could adjust the programming or directly overwrite the election results.”
Industry standards are simple and easily implemented. They should be implemented here in Oregon.
Proposal 6: Require ID when voters register in Oregon.
Some states require photo ID to register or to vote; federal law requires some ID to vote; currently Oregon requires no ID to register or to vote. By federal law, prospective voters, even in Oregon, submit identification sufficient to meet the Federal Identity requirements imposed by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) if their votes for federal candidates are to be counted. In Oregon, however, federal identity standards are not being met.
Thousands of registrations in Multnomah County alone are non-HAVA compliant. In the case of these ballots, the counties must identify each ballot cast by a non-HAVA compliant voter, are required to physically cover every vote for a federal candidate, and then count the votes for non-federal candidates. This cumbersome and expensive process should be eliminated.
There are concerns that requiring ID would discriminate against minority populations. If that were the case, however, then rules concerning driving, alcohol and cigarette purchases, check cashing, entering federal buildings, collecting benefits, being certified for particular positions with the state, and flying domestically would be discriminatory as well. All of these require photo ID, which is far more than HAVA requires.
Oregon should be required to meet the minimal federal standards.
The consequences of failing to do so extend far beyond the integrity of the voting system – they threaten our national security. In Oregon, voter registrants who fail to submit identity proof are not only sent ballots, they are sent Voter Notification cards which effectively serve as ID documentation in other legal situations.Oregon’s practices are so lax that, according the Washington County District Attorney, tens of thousands of aliens from all over the world were acquiring Oregon ID and Oregon Drivers Licenses. By exploiting our exceedingly lax voter registration policies, these people were given voter ID cards which then allowed them to get photographic IDs. With a photographic ID, virtually all other services in the U.S. are accessible. We do not know whether these thousands of people, many of whom have never lived in Oregon, remain on the Oregon voting lists. Nor do we know if terrorists attempting to enter theUnited Statesexploited the Oregon loopholes.
Requiring voter ID is necessary to ensure the integrity of the voting system and the safety of our republic.
Chana B. Cox
U-Choose Education Forum
After the circulation of these proposals, U-Choose Education Forum will conduct a survey. Each person surveyed will be asked whether they support or oppose the proposal. They will also be asked for comments. The entire survey and resulting report will be posted on the U-Choose Education Forum Website.
A summary and an analysis of the results of that survey will be distributed to the media.